Critical Condition

Higher Teen Birth Rates or Lower Teen Abortion Rates?

This morning, reported on a study which will appear in the journal Reproductive Health showing that U.S. states whose residents are more religious tend to have higher teen birth rates. Now, much of the write-up blames conservative hostility to contraception for these high teen birth rates. However, this is an odd argument. The most religious states tend to be in the south where there are high percentage of Evangelical Protestants. Most Protestant denominations do not oppose articificial contraception the way the Roman Catholic Church does. 


Now there certainly exist other factors that account for these high teen birth rates in religious states. However, they receive considerably less attention in the write-up. Toward the end of the article, there is a mention of the fact that teen abortion rates are lower in reglious states. However, there is not much discussion about how religiosity of teens or their parents may decrease the likelihood of a pregnant teen choosing abortion. There is also a brief mention of the fact people in religious states tend to marry earlier and that a higher percentage of these teen pregnancies might well be intended.


Not surprisingly, another factor which gets no mention in the MSNBC article is the fact that abortion providers are relatively scarce in relgious states and that more religious states tend to have more pro-life laws. These factors increase the travel and monetary costs of obtaining an abortion. This may disprorportionately affect the childbearing decisions of minors since they typically lack the financial resources of adults. Mississippi, which has the highest teen birth rates and one of the lowest teen abortion rates in the country, also has the strongest parental involvment law in the country. It requires minors to receive consent from both parents before obtaining an abortion.


Of course, the mainstream media has little interest in this. In fact, the media is typically eager to report any study that places religiosity in a negative light. However, any research which documents positive results from conservative social values typically receives scant attention.

— Michael J. New is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Alabama and a visiting fellow at the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, N.J.

Michael J. New is a visiting assistant professor of social research and political science at the Catholic University of America and an associate scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute in Washington, D.C.